Nobody Wants to Leave 'Paradise' : Manhattan Beach: People who grew up here want to stay, and others are attracted by the beach, clean air and sense of place offered by the community.

Mothner is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

When Jack and Julie Tedesco outgrew the two-bedroom, one-bath duplex they had bought with another couple in Manhattan Beach 10 years ago, they were confronted by the reality faced by any middle-income family dreaming of a larger home in this affluent community:

"We couldn't afford to buy a home in Manhattan Beach," Julie Tedesco said.

But neither were they willing to forfeit the small-town atmosphere and proximity to the surf that had for so long defined their lifestyle.

What they could do, however, was bulldoze their original $230,000 duplex in the city's "Sand Section" and join with the same couple to build two adjoining three-story condos. Already both families are beginning to see a payoff from their efforts.

While the Tedescos and their two sons plan to stay in their home, their partners have listed their house for sale at about $800,000. The two condos cost about $450,000 to build.

The "tear-down" approach has become increasingly common as growing Manhattan Beach families refuse to give up the town's clean air, ocean breezes, good schools and neighborliness.

Those seeking larger houses seldom look elsewhere, but there is only so much available land and limited room to remodel or rebuild. But no one wants to leave.

Just three miles south of Los Angeles International Airport, the not quite four-square-mile city of Manhattan Beach fronts the Pacific Ocean.

Bounded by Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach on the south and El Segundo on the north, its position on the coastal curve gives Manhattan Beach commuters a 10-minute ride to the San Diego Freeway, stirring envy in residents of adjacent beach towns, who often spend a half-hour making the connection.

The vast majority of its white, upwardly mobile population of 35,000 are families and homeowners. Singles and renters look for affordable housing in Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. Those who do rent in Manhattan Beach spend an average of $1,000 to $1,200 monthly for a one- or two-bedroom apartment.

Several distinctive communities make up Manhattan Beach. The casual and rustic "Tree Section" presents a striking contrast to the high-density Sand Section, an area of houses on small lots with walk streets providing easy access to the beach. Set apart in the less crowded hill section are large homes that boast panoramic ocean views. More traditional and affordable neighborhood settings lie east of Sepulveda in older tracts such as Mira Costa and Liberty Village.

But everywhere the look is eclectic. Typically, a two-bedroom stucco beach cottage sits next to a reincarnated Mediterranean villa whose square footage has been stretched to the legal limit. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the "Tree Section," where most of the new development has been occurring.

Recently, Jeri Dearden began putting up "Save the Trees" signs in the front yard of her 1,000-square-foot adobe bungalow at the corner of Marine and Pine avenues. Fiercely loyal to the rural quality of the neighborhood her parents loved when they paid $6,000 for the two-bedroom house in 1949, she began her quiet protest because so many of the trees had become casualties of progress.

"This area was specifically planted to become a tree section," said Dearden, who works in the aerospace industry and owns a travel agency. "I don't care what is on a lot. Just try to retain some of the front-yard charm of a perfectly wonderful community."

Despite the threat to her environment, she is unwilling to pull up stakes and leave. "I could never afford to buy back into the area because of the outrageous land values," she said.

What's left, then, is to continue her ladylike vigil. "There is a whole rash of retirees who want nothing more than to scrape, make a quick profit and leave," she said. "But I'm staying behind and I'm beginning to say that is not fair."

Home prices start in the mid-$300,000s in east Manhattan Beach and rise to the multimillions in the hill section and along the strand, according to realtor Ron Werner of Shorewood Realtors.

What this means to a buyer at the lower end of the spectrum is usually a 40-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bath house, Werner said. Purchases at the top of the scale include 4,000-square-foot homes with views of the ocean and city.

Like many friends he had grown up with in the area, Redondo Beach-born Marc Strange found himself locked out of the South Bay realty market. So the 32-year-old contractor calls it "being at the right place at the right time" when local realtor Mary Weaver, a family friend, decided to unload her troubled rental on Highland Avenue, a few blocks from the ocean. He paid $165,000.

"It was a very good price," Strange said. "In 1987, on the open market, it would probably have been listed for $195,000." The completely dilapidated, 1,000-square-foot structure underwent 12 months of remodeling before becoming livable.

"For anyone else with any money it probably would have been a tear-down," he recalled. ". . . Since I'm in the business, we were able to fix it up relatively inexpensively."

Three years later, the pressures of overcrowding and the anticipation of a second child forced Strange and his wife, Patty, a registered nurse, to begin looking around. "But even with the $200,000 free, clear cash equity, we could not have gotten what we wanted--a larger home with a back yard," he said.

Again, Strange chose a similar route. With his plans in progress for a complete tear-down and rebuilding, he expects to gain more than 1,000 square feet.

It's clear why Strange didn't consider moving out of town:

"I like the Hometown Fair and the 10-K runs. We really enjoy going out on Saturday and Sunday mornings to all the little breakfast places. We go to all the family activities at Polliwog Park. We use the things that Manhattan offers, and I like that."

The Manhattan Beach Old Hometown Fair in October seems to have an unrivaled popularity among residents. "I think because it involves so many people that live here," said Nancy Jones, a member of the fair's board of directors.

"Typically, if you have a kid in the public schools, Cub Scouts, baseball, belong to any church in town, you're probably working four booths on the fair weekend."

In 1904, the city's recreational life was far less organized. Lured by great fishing and swimming, people boarded the Red Car from Los Angeles and Pasadena to get to the summer resort, where only 12 families lived all year long.

Five years later, the Neptunian Woman's Club, a group devoted to building libraries and planting ice plant on the enormous sand dunes, began pushing for incorporation; the city received its charter in 1912.

Because of its isolation from industry, Manhattan Beach grew up as a residential community. It wasn't until World War II, as aircraft plants springing up along Aviation Boulevard brought an influx of workers into the area, that the population began exploding.

Clearly, no amount of growth seems to disturb the prevailing sense of a shared community. "If you live here awhile, you get to know almost everyone," said Pat Fant.

For Fant and her husband, Greg, an attorney with a large downtown law firm, life in Manhattan Beach began more than 14 years ago in an apartment on Manhattan Avenue. Given her husband's allergies to smog, and the city's location, it became the logical choice, she said.

Last spring, after looking on and off for the last five years, the couple and their three children found their dream home in Manhattan Heights, a new development in east Manhattan Beach. They paid $750,000 for the five-bedroom, custom-built house with a verdant expanse of green back yard.

"You have to start early in Manhattan Beach," Fant said. "We had our first house when we were 25, a three-bedroom, fixer-upper in the Tree Section for $69,000. That is how we got in."

Schools figure prominently in Fant's appreciation of the community. The disturbance once caused by the highly publicized McMartin Pre-School molestation case has faded well into the background of most people's lives. Common themes among families such as Fant's are the demands of raising and educating children and ardent fund-raising support for the schools.

"People are saying why bother to send our children to Chadwick (a prestigious private school). Look at these schools," Fant said, referring to a recent report that ranked the test results of South Bay high school students with those of Beverly Hills High and Palos Verdes High. "We have it right here,"

Potential real estate profits and anxiety about density have always made zoning a volatile issue in Manhattan Beach. But this year's controversy over the City Council's efforts to downscale building size has caused an epic stir.

Councilman Dan Stern thinks it is because of the general disappointment in land appreciation. A strong supporter of the reductions being legislated, he says: "For most of the city, what we basically have done is gone down by about 10%. We've tried to put some control on things. We don't want people building four-story things. We don't want people intruding on their neighbor's privacy and rights."

However, many Manhattan Beach residents value an identification with the community even more than their home's square footage.

For example, even if Heidi Rosner and her "significant other," Dan Millstone, hadn't added 1,000 square feet of second-story living space to their 1946, two-bedroom beach cottage in east Manhattan Beach, leaving would never have been an option.

"It is too great a town," said Rosner, 28, who does marketing research for TRW. "We would have stayed in our old house if we had to. It is not the kind of community you want to just take from. You want to give back to it too."

AT A GLANCE Population 1990 estimate: 34,130 1980-1990 change: 8.2% Median Age: 35.7 years Annual income Per capita: 31,726 Median household: 69,383 Household distribution Less than $15,000: 4.6% $15,000-$30,000: 9.0% $30,000-$50,000: 17.3% $50,000-$75,000: 24.6% $75,000 + : 41.3%

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World